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Jon Willis – Interview

Jon Willis – Interview

Rush, the Bayou Cafe, and Star Wars
Photo: John Williams

Bassist Jon Willis of Jon Lee & the Apparitions is interviewed about his musical influences, his desire to help people, his passion for his kids, and much more.

Who are some of your musical influences?

Well, I’m a ROCK guy so my influences have evolved over the years but I will say that as far as bands go KINGS X and The Who will always be on that list. As I explored Progressive music I really dug in deep with RUSH and YES… big time. Then came Dream Theater and other Prog artists of that era. But I always lean back to the straight-ahead ROCK & ROLL vibe in the music.

As far as individual players are concerned, it’s not a secret that Billy Sheehan ( Talas, David Lee Roth, Mr. Big, Winery Dogs ) tops the list for me along with John Entwistle of The Who. And I will always give massive credit to world-renowned bass instructor Beaver Felton, who forged the musical fire that keeps me learning and pushing forward daily. I was very fortunate to study with him in the beginning.

How did you link up with Jon Lee Murphy?

We worked at the same music store back in 2009. My friend Shane Baldwin let me listen to a song he recorded with Murphy and I was blown away by his voice. He has genuine passion and soul that can’t be faked and he reminded me a lot of Paul Rogers from the band FREE. It was many years later that we started working together.

Like many other performers I’ve worked with, I don’t think that he liked the way I approached music at first, Hahahaha !! But Murphy is a great vocalist and guitarist, so I like to create musical passages at the moment live and see where he takes them. That level of improvisation can be rewarding to the band and the audience when executed properly and some nights he hits a grand slam.

I can never explain what I hear in musicians when I hear them, but I have this crazy desire to push musicians I work with into places and see where they land

Have you been a member of any other Savannah bands?

Yes, quite a few over the years. I will list them in order that I can remember them. Mr.Wilson, State of Mind, Swyrl, 8 Mile Bend, Perception, The Long-Awaited, Moan Jam, Josh Maul Band, Savannah River Trio, Andrew Gill Band, Jubal Kane, Chuck Courteney Band, Ben Keiser Band, Hitman Blues Band, and Jam Lusho. I’m sure some have been left off, sorry. I’ve shared many of these bands with my friend Ryan Sessions on drums. That dude is a machine.

What are some of your favorite Savannah and regional venues to perform in?

That’s easy, any place that has an audience that wants to experience music. But, I think The Bayou is a great place to perform music and get close to an audience, literally. Jazz’d is my favorite place to play and eat. And Bay Street Blues feels like home to me because of Ms. Bonnie and Jessica. Hucapoos likes it loud, and I like playing loudly.

Have you ever wanted to collaborate with any other Savannah artist or musician but never had the chance to?

Another easy question. And if we were talking in person, I would have interrupted your question by saying Erica Franklin Holmes. I think she has more to offer than even she believes. I can never explain what I hear in musicians when I hear them, but I have this crazy desire to push musicians I work with into places and see where they land. Other than that, the instrumentalists just need to have a cool attitude and no ego. I put more faith in the vocalist rather than the instruments.

Talk a little about your YouTube channel …

Well, it’s a mess and a great representation of what my brain looks like. Haha. I have instructional videos, gear demos and reviews, random performances from shows I’ve witnessed, and most recently I started working with Line 6 and created my own website about the Line 6 Helix Effects Controller. I call my online “persona” Dr. Tone and I create downloadable presets for players all over the world to use and create music with. I genuinely love to help people in many areas of life. I’ve been honored to have some great artists use my work as well. Great fun.

Talk about some other personal interests outside of music …

Star Wars! Which may come as a shock to everyone, but it’s true. I am 100% obsessed with my kids and they are my greatest passion in life. And I also enjoy building things and for a few years I built guitar effects and modified amps. But I tend to get as quickly bored with new hobbies as quickly as I get excited about learning new hobbies. And I forgot to mention Star Wars.

I could explain my meaning, but honestly, I think it has more impact if I don’t

What are your thoughts on the current state of the Savannah music scene?

Well, the variety of the bands is great and there are some very talented people here, but it seems that the focus is more on “making it” rather than delivering a product worthy of being discovered. When people first read that sentence they will get offended, but if they read the sentence a few times slowly and self evaluate, it will make sense. I could explain my meaning, but honestly, I think it has more impact if I don’t.

Do you play any other instrument or have you ever wanted to?

I play guitar but I don’t enjoy it. It’s a great way to work out chords and progressions. I threaten to buy a drum set, but it seems like a lot of work.

Do you have any upcoming projects, interests, or events you’d like to mention?

I’m always doing some studio work with Shane Baldwin at Elevated Basement Studio, so I have projects going on there. And Jon Lee Murphy and I will be doing an EP soon. I have a project in Atlanta that will be launching in 2020. Other than that, I’m working on accessing the fourth dimension through lack of sleep and distorted feedback. It’s going well. Thanks for asking.

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